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Oregon's Medical Pot Gets High Ratings

Herb Fellow

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David Verstoppen is worried.

The 52-year-old licensed marijuana grower has just left a private smoking area at the sixth annual Oregon Medical Cannabis Awards. But it's not the smoke, which wafts around the entrance to the Ambridge Event Center on Saturday afternoon, that's making him feel a little anxious.

It's the competition. Verstoppen traveled 300 miles to Portland from Long Creek in Grant County to be here. In the past two years, his entries have taken top honors. This year, three of his medical marijuana strains -- nicknamed "Medicine Man," "Medicine Woman" and "Purple Erkel" -- are among 28 entries vying for recognition.

"I'm not used to all the people, the fame of it, almost," Verstoppen says, smiling beneath his gray moustache and offering a tense shrug. "I'm always nervous at this event."

For the past month, 28 judges -- all medical marijuana cardholders -- have been sampling entries from Verstoppen and 12 other licensed Oregon growers. Judges rate each strain of marijuana, on a scale of 1 to 10, in six categories: appearance, aroma, smoothness, taste, potency and "medicinal effect," or how well it soothes what ails them.

("I finished the last of them this morning on my way up here," said 53-year-old Larry Macdonald of Dallas with a chuckle.)

The awards began in 2002, four years after state voters legalized medical marijuana. As of October, 14,831 Oregonians were medical marijuana cardholders and 7,178 growers, called caregivers, were approved to supply them.

And though cannabis advocates have plenty of things to worry about right now -- in particular, a ballot initiative from former state legislator Kevin Mannix that would dismantle the state's medical marijuana program -- the mood Saturday was light.

Volunteer models strutted in hemp sweatshirts and wedding dresses, while a Vietnam vet from Cornelius sold quilted "pot holders" with marijuana leaf designs. ("You can flip them over when your parents come over," he explained.)

Baking trays bore a rainbow of chocolate truffles with undisclosed ingredients and flavors labeled raspberry, almond and "kid-friendly." Shoppers posed for pictures with a four-foot bong.

Guests breezed in and out of a smoking room. Oregon's medicinal marijuana law forbids smoking the drug in public view. Windows onto the smoking courtyard were covered with paper, and the room was off-limits to everyone but medical marijuana cardholders.

Despite his fears, Verstoppen again took first place when the winners were announced. Second place went to Peter Stark of Eagle Point, and third place was given to D. Paul Stanford of Portland. Overall, how did this year's crop measure up?

"It was consistently consistent, moderate to very good," said Macdonald, who was judging for his fifth time.

"There were no bad ones," he mused. "There were no 10s. Lots of nines."

The event's organizers -- leaders of the advocacy group Oregon NORML -- were quick to tout the contest's contributions to medical research. But some people came for the spectacle.

"They always had the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. I thought it was cool that Portland had its own version of it." said Dan Buchman, a 46-year-old landscaper and caregiver from Molalla. "It's a lot cheaper coming here than going to Amsterdam."

Source: The Oregonian
Copyright: 2007 The Oregonian
Contact: Jessica Bruder: 503-294-5915; jessicabruder@news.oregonian.com
Website: OregonLive.com: Everything Oregon
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